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Why the third wave of COVID-19 in California may be the worst



Faced with a third wave of COVID-19, just as we enter the holiday season, it would be fair for Californians to ask some existential questions.

Why does this virus seem to be directing us again? Why do we struggle to control it? Where did we go wrong?

The simple answer is: We actually know how to fight the virus. We’re just tired of doing it.

This third wave of coronavirus is particularly worrying because we have “never returned” to a low baseline, said Dr. Sarah Cody, a health worker in Santa Clara County and a key architect of the first regional home stay order.

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7;s worse is that this jump occurs during the traditional season of colds and flu, exacerbated because people tend to stay indoors, where it’s easier to get germs.

“We are also facing this leap on the eve of traditionally the biggest day of travel of the year – and this is the day before Thanksgiving,” Cody said.

In addition, California will not be able to count on help from other parts of the country. “Everyone is experiencing a wave at the same time,” Cody said.

They remain very unknown. Overall, deaths from COVID-19 have decreased since the spring as infections have affected a younger, healthier demographic and hospitals are improving in treatment. Some jobs and institutions such as nursing homes have improved in protection measures. But there are still concerns about filling hospitals in the coming weeks if California can’t start leveling the curve again.

And there is a psychological dimension to the third wave, which is particularly devastating. Many were hoping for a recovery from the isolation, insecurity and economic damage from the coronavirus so far, a chance to reconnect with family and friends, do personal Christmas shopping and feel that better times are ahead. The news of successful vaccines is a boost. But many are entering the holiday season as anxious as ever.

Even in San Francisco, where there is a relatively small number of COVID-19 deaths, “we are seeing an explosion of new cases across the city,” warned Dr. Grant Colfax, director of public health.

“This growth rate is higher than ever,” Colfax said, warning that the city could be left without a hospital bed and intensive care unit capacity.

“The choices we … make over the next two weeks will determine the rest of this holiday season,” Colfax said, urging people to cancel their travel plans and stay home for Thanksgiving. “We have the ability to choose whether to repel the third jump or fall victim to the jump, as we unfortunately see in other parts of the country.”

California was once a shining example of how a country could obey to prevent this pandemic from becoming a complete disaster. Because officials acted relatively early to enforce a home stay order, Golden State hospitals have never been as crowded as those in New York City, which have doubled the number of casualties in California.

But California was not spared the devastated economy, and this put pressure on people to reopen, desperate to save their businesses from ruin.

Attitudes also change as the pandemic drags on. California shows how collective shrugging, lack of discipline and a longing for a quick “return to normal” can also lead to a new season of death.

Loose rules for restaurants and bars and the outbreak of social activity in the waning spring weeks and early weeks of summer have led to the deadliest season of the pandemic in California, sabotaging efforts to open schools in time for the fall.

There are now fears that California is on the same path again, with the lure of Thanksgiving, Christmas and other winter holidays being irresistible to some.

Mass fatigue and even resentment from the coronavirus make some people provocatively spend evenings without masks and plan holiday celebrations.

The lure for social gatherings is strong: Gov. Gavin Newsum recently apologized for attending a friend’s birthday dinner at an exclusive restaurant in the Napa Valley.

And health officials are urging people not to think they can use tests to get a free party card without the need for face masks or social distancing. This would make the same mistake that the Trump administration made when its testing strategy failed to protect President Trump from infection and allowed a high-profile incident at a Rose Garden ceremony by announcing his nominee to the Supreme Court.

Unless canceled or drastically reduced, traditional social gatherings amid the world’s worst pandemic in a century will lead to a season of heartbreak, congested hospitals and congested morgues as the weeks approach Christmas.

Health officials are tracking this pattern in California, and for that reason they are appalled by what could hit the state if nothing is done to shift it from that trajectory.

In the state, the current acceleration of cases is the fastest, with cases rising by 51% in the first week of November, the fastest increase in California so far, which was previously a 39% jump in the last week of spring, Gov. Gavin Newsum said in Monday.

“It’s just unprecedented in California’s pandemic history,” Newsum said.

In late spring, scientists now believe that the rapid opening of the business, which began in May, and stories of how California survived the pandemic better than the East Coast, seem to be telegraphing to people who, two months after a tight homework, it was good to loosen up.

But birthdays and celebrations soon became super distributors.

There was a story about a truck driver who, after months of hard isolation, finally went to a barbecue party. More than 10 people who attended the party eventually became infected, and truck driver Tommy Macias, 51, died on the second day of summer.

Then there was the story, later in the summer, of a couple traveling from California to Maine to get married in the small town of Milinocket. There were only 55 people present at the wedding reception, but in the next few weeks, 176 people would become infected, including the parent of a person attending the wedding – who also worked at a long-term care center. More than half of the facility’s residents were infected, and six of them eventually died from COVID-19.

In Los Angeles County, Barbara Ferrer, director of public health, meticulously traced key moments preceding the outbreak of coronavirus infections.

Looking back, it is now clear that the second jump in Los Angeles County cases began on May 28, three days after Remembrance Day, leading to a peak in daily coronavirus cases that would not arrive until July 14.

But the influx of hospitalizations will not begin until June 18 and will peak on July 20. The death toll began on June 30 and finally peaked on July 27 and will last until early October before the deaths reach a low point.

A similar timeline with the current Los Angeles County jump would likely turn into a jump in deaths in early December and a worsening over Christmas and New Year in early January.

This is a similar weather forecast from the Institute of Health Metrics and Assessment at the University of Washington. Researchers at the institute predict that daily deaths will start to rise in early December in California.

Daily deaths from COVID-19 have been on the rise across the country for about a month, and the institute predicts the rate will worsen by mid-January.

The increase in travel recently may have led employees to notice a sudden increase in coronavirus cases in the first few days of November, Cody said, as Silicon Valley residents travel to more infected areas, become unknowingly infected and return the virus to at home.

Also, “we see both accelerating transmission in both households and private settings, and then in the workplace, as well as back and forth,” Cody said. “We must redouble our efforts on all fronts.”

Part of that is increasing public education and emphasizing that people can be highly contagious to the virus without ever feeling unwell – as a result of silent chains of viral transmission that lead to an over-spreading incident, Cody said.

In fact, the idea that we could face several waves of the pandemic was predicted shortly after the pandemic began.

In a computer model developed by researchers at Chan’s Harvard School of Public Health and released in March, researchers suspected that a one-time effort to socially distance oneself in the spring would never be enough.

They predict a situation in which we will need long periods of social distancing, perhaps with periodic periods of relaxation, to prevent overloading the hospital system at all times. And they proposed a plausible scenario according to which social distancing measures could only be eased in early to mid-2021, with the epidemic ending in mid-2022.

Now experts say the widespread distribution of promising coronavirus vaccines to the general public is unlikely to happen until mid-2021.

Times writers Karen Kaplan and Stephanie Lai contributed to this report.




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